It was a Kenyan show of force on the streets of Philadelphia on Sunday morning.
PHILADELPHIA — With bands jamming in front of the city’s iconic Art Museum, Kenya’s Stanley Biwott broke the finishing tape at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon in 1 hour and 3 seconds on Sunday morning. The 26-year-old, who was wearing bib number one, flashed a broad smile while sweat poured down his face.
“I did OK,” he said with a humble shrug. Biwott, who won the Paris Marathon in April with a 2:05:12 clocking, didn’t just do OK — he completely obliterated the field. His winning time was 40 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Paul Lonyongata, a 19-year-old from Kenya. American Dathan Ritzenhein, who is gearing up for next month’s Chicago Marathon, finished third in 60:57.
Biwott came to the City of Brotherly Love to prepare for his ultimate goal: winning the ING New York City Marathon in two months. “I have the speed for the marathon,” he admitted. “Now I must work on my endurance.”
It was Biwott’s race to lose from the start. He and Lonyongata ran stride for stride early on, and by the 5K mark they still shared the lead after injecting a blazing sub-4:30 mile that immediately thinned the pack down. From there, the two Kenyans clicked through repeat 4:30 miles. The race’s pivotal moment came at mile 8, just before the scenic Falls Bridge over the Schuylkill River. With a quick glance over his shoulder, Biwott injected a quick surge. Lonyongata had nothing to counter and Biwott took off into the distance.
“At that point, I was really feeling my hamstring,” Lonyongata recalled afterward. “I had injured it in training and I could not keep up with him [Biwott].”
Biwot ran the remaining miles alone, finishing to a raucous finish-line ovation.
Far in the distance was Ritzenhein, a three-time Olympian, who was running his first race since finishing 13th in the 10,000m final at the Olympic Games.
“I’m pretty happy,” the 29-year-old Ritzenhein said with a slight smirk afterward. “It was a good, solid race.” Ritzenhein, who is coached by Alberto Salazar, is coming off a self-admitted lackluster Olympic showing. He said he was using the Philadelphia race as preparation for Chicago and is now “pretty confident” he will be able to improve on his 2:09:55 personal best.
The marathon is a sensitive subject for Ritzenhein. At the U.S. Olympic Trials in January he finished fourth, missing the U.S. squad by one place, and then went on to watch two members of the team drop out at the Olympic marathon.
“That’s the thing with the U.S. [Olympic selection] process,” he said. “It sucks in that not necessarily the best person based on credentials is going to run in the Olympics. It’s the top three based on one day’s effort. But the process is also great in that it’s not like Kenya where nobody really knows who will end up going to the Olympics.”
The women’s race was much more of a contest. Sharon Cherop, this year’s Boston Marathon champion, prevailed to win in 1:07:21. Second place went to 22-year-old Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia, who ran 1:07:44. Jemima Jelegat Sumgong of Kenya finished third in 1:08:39.
Like Stanley Biwott, Cherop admitted that her race in Philadelphia was a good test of her speed before the ING New York City Marathon in November, and she was especially happy with a win. Cherop last ran this race in 2007, when she took fourth. “I was just a youngster back then,” she said with a chuckle. “I still needed to learn. Now I am going to try my best in New York.” The 28-year-old Cherop said that the Philadelphia course was challenging in that she felt it had a lot of downhill sections along Kelly Drive. “It was a tactical race,” she admitted. “It had a lot of turns.”
During the race, Cherop shared the lead with Dibaba as well as Japan’s Kaori Yoshida. By mile 8, the three caught some of the elite men who had fallen back. Two miles later, Cherop made her decisive move and by the 12th mile her lead over Dibaba had grown to 17 seconds.
“I feel like I’ve succeeded in testing myself here,” Cherop said. “I just need to do a couple things before New York City in order to do well there.”
Over 20,000 runners took to the streets of Philadelphia on Sunday morning. Fourteen bands, teams of local high school cheerleaders, and even children dressed in hula skirts performed for the competitors.
Ritzenhein summed up the race best. “This event is awesome,” he said. “I was fired up by the crowds and felt the crowd’s energy the entire way.”